The link between the late pop superstar Michael Jackson and Sega is one which has been well-documented over the years.
A seasoned gamer himself, Jackson would collaborate with Sega on Moonwalker video games for the Mega Drive, Master System and coin-op and would also contribute to Sonic 3's soundtrack. He also appeared in a high-tech ride that Sega developed in the early '90s, footage from which was recently unearthed at a British flea market.
Jackson's affection for Sega wasn't merely business, however; he was genuinely a fan of the company and owned several Sega arcade machines. He was also keen on Altered Beast, as a fun anecdote from former Sega of American Head of Marketing Al Nilsen reveals.
Nilsen was the point of contact at SoA when it came to Jackson, and, in a new interview with Time Extension, explains a meeting which took place at a recording studio:
"First, we had a meeting with Michael’s legal team and then we went back to our hotel and were told that we would be contacted and taken back to a room to meet with Michael. We were picked up probably an hour later by Bill Bray, who was Michael’s head of security and then taken to a recording studio in Hollywood where Michael was recording, I guess, the Dangerous album at that time. This was in late July/early August in ’89, as I was bringing him the very first Genesis from the US shipments because the Genesis wasn't out until the 14th of August.
We go to the recording studio, walk down a long hallway, and coming the other way, there’s Michael Jackson. And as he gets nearer he goes, ‘I know that game! That’s a good game’ pointing to the Altered Beast package front on the Genesis box I'm holding."
Released in arcades in 1988, Altered Beast would be ported to the Mega Drive in the same year and would become the console's pack-in title when it launched in North America and Europe. It's not the greatest game in the world, but it certainly has its fans – and Jackson was clearly one of them.
Nilsen reveals that the subsequent meeting with the pop star would be something special:
"So, I pull out the presentation boards and started talking to Michael and explaining what they were, and he had great feedback. He was a gamer himself and looked at the screenshots they had and made a lot of comments like, ‘Well, why don’t we do this? What if I did this? What if this is how the battles go on?’ We had been told by Michael’s head of security as we were going up, ‘You have a 20-minute window that Michael likes to be in meetings, so expect this to be only 10-15 minutes long’ and we probably ended up spending over an hour with him, just Michael and I talking, with the rest of them just looking down and listening. Michael kept being called on the intercom because he was needed down in the studio, and he said, ‘I’ll be there, I’ll be there’ and just kept talking about the game. It just showed how much he loved gaming and what we were doing.
Finally, it was like, ‘We need you down in the studio now!’ and he was like 'Okay!', so he gets up and Dai and I have pictures taken with him and then he went down to the studio. Then his head of security takes us back and he says, ‘You don’t realize what just happened, Michael doesn’t do meetings like that. That’s the longest meeting I’ve ever seen Michael take. He must love what he’s doing.’"
Jackson's relationship with Sega would become strained around the time of Sonic 3 due to allegations of child sexual abuse. He would team up with the company again for Space Channel 5: Part 2. He passed away in 2009 from an overdose of propofol.